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Details released in separate fatal fire inquiries that killed 2 Chicago firefighters a day apart

An autopsy determined that Jan Tchoryk died of a heart attack, a natural cause


Photo/Chicago Fire Department

By Shanzeh Ahmad, Jake Sheridan
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — The cause of a fatal fire in a Gold Coast high-rise apartment building Wednesday that left one Chicago firefighter dead was announced Thursday morning, and the cause of death for him and another Chicago firefighter killed Tuesday in a separate West Pullman residential fire were also revealed.

Jan Tchoryk, 55, died leading a ladder crew up to the fire on the 27th floor of 1212 N. DuSable Lake Shore Drive around 8 a.m. Wednesday. The extra-alarm fire was ruled accidental and started from “combustibles being too close to a heat-generating appliance,” Larry Langford, Chicago fire spokesperson, said Thursday morning.

An autopsy Thursday determined Tchoryk died of a heart attack, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office. His death was ruled natural.

A “mayday” alert went out after Tchoryk, a veteran firefighter and lieutenant with the department, collapsed on the stairs on the 11th floor of the apartment building.

Tchoryk was a “real likable guy that had a smile on his face most of the time,” Langford said. He spent most of his career on the Tower Ladder 10 team, becoming a “fixture” and a “fire family member” on the crew, Langford said. He was married and had several children.

Officials confirmed later Wednesday morning the fire was confined to an apartment on the 27th floor, which did not have sprinklers.

Two other firefighters were injured in the Wednesday fire as well as two civilians.

Jermaine Pelt, another Chicago firefighter, lost his life in a fire in the West Pullman neighborhood on Tuesday. The medical examiner’s office listed Pelt’s cause of death as “carbon monoxide toxicity and inhalation of smoke and soot due to working on/putting out a residential fire.” A secondary cause of death was listed as thermal injuries and hypertensive arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. His death was listed as accidental.

Langford said Thursday morning the cause of the West Pullman fire is still under investigation.

“To have two go down this way, back-to-back, it’s very hard on the members,” Langford said. “It’s very hard on command. It’s just very hard.”

The 49-year-old was one of the firefighters who responded to a frame house fire in the 12000 block of South Wallace Street shortly after 3:30 a.m. Tuesday for a fire on the second floor and in the attic. Officials said the fire spread to homes north and south of the frame house, and Pelt went down on a hose line.

Two adults and two children were displaced by the fire.

Two other firefighters were injured battling the blaze.

Pelt was a firefighter for 18 years, mostly with Engine 75, where he took his last call.

He was also born and raised in West Pullman and continued to live, work and worship in the neighborhood in his adulthood. Pelt was also a registered nurse, paramedic and had recently become an instructor at the city’s fire academy.

Pelt’s father, John Pelt, spoke about his son Tuesday surrounded by firefighters who worked with him. His father said Pelt walked his only daughter down the aisle last November.

“When God calls, we’ve got to answer,” John Pelt said in front of the firehouse at 1024 W. 119th St.

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